DISNEY-CONDUCTED PREVIEW OF DISNEYLAND, ANAHEIM, CAL.
TWO OF THE LUCKIEST YOUNGSTERS IN THE U.S. OF A., SYBIL STANTON, NINE, AND BILLY KRAUCH, 12, ARE SHOWN IN THESE PHOTOS AS THEY WERE GIVEN A PREVIEW OF THAT FABULOUS WONDERLAND, BUILT BY THE MASTER OF FANTASY, WALT DISNEY AT A COST OF $17,000,000 NEAR ANEHIM. NOT ONLY THAT, BUT THE CREATOR OF DISNEYLAND, WALT DISNEY HIMSELF, CONDUCTED THE TOUR. AT LEFT: DISNEY AND THE LUCKY BOY AND GIRL RIDE IN THE LOCOMOTIVE OF THE "DISNEYLAND RR."
THE ENGINE IS AN AUTHENTIC SCALE REPLICA OF THE OLD-TIME PUFFING BILLY. IN CENTER: THEY TAKE A JAUNTED ON A HORSE-DRAWN STREETCAR THROUGH ONE OF THE MODEL STREETS OF THE WONDERLAND WITH DISNEY AT THE REINS. AND AT RIGHT: ANOTHER TYPE OF TRANSPORTATION - PACK MULES AND BURROS TAKE THE YOUNGSTERS AND THEIR FAMOUS GUIDE THROUGH A BIT OF DISNEYLAND. NOTE DISNEY'S FAVORITE CHARACTER, MICKEY MOUSE, ON THE STEED AT LEFT. DISNEYLAND WILL BE FORMALLY OPENED ON JULY 18.
I stumbled upon a follow-up article from 2005 by Leo N. Holzer, Friends of the Walt Disney Family Museum; here it is:
The summer of 1955 was very magical for two children living in Southern California. Like thousands of others, they visited Disneyland.
But, unlike their peers, the visit by cousins Bill Krauch and Sybil Stanton was part of a revealing peak at the Magic Kingdom — weeks before the park opened to the public. Walt Disney personally served as their host and tour guide.
"It was all arranged by our uncle, Robert R.H. Krauch, who was the managing editor of the now defunct Los Angeles Herald-Express," said Bill Krauch, a resident of Santa Ynez who was 12 years old at the time of the historic trip and living in West Los Angeles.
The Herald-Express was the afternoon newspaper. The Los Angeles Times was the morning newspaper.
"The Herald Express wanted to do a pre-opening story on Disneyland," Bill continued. "I’m not sure how they decided they wanted two kids, but it makes sense considering it was Disneyland."
Uncle Robert’s children were too old, so he and his wife selected a boy, Bill, from one side of the family, and a girl, Sybil Stanton, then 9, from the other side of the family.
"We were the favorite niece and nephew of an appropriate age. We filled the bill," Sybil said during a phone call from her home in Newport Beach. Just before the historic trip, Sybil’s family had moved from San Gabriel to Tustin.
The kids spent about 5 hours in the park with Walt Disney, crammed full of activities and photo opportunities.
"There’ll be things to do here forever," Walt Disney said as he welcomed them into his playland, a statement that still rings true today.
The Herald-Express ran a three-day, photo-packed series on the visit during the first week of July 1955. The park opened to the general public on July 18, 1955.
"As I recall, Disneyland was still under construction," Bill said. "The visit was really geared to the outdoor things where they could get a good photo shot. Disney was very protective, very concerned that we were treated well and that the newspaper got the photos it needed."
"I really remember Main Street USA. That’s where we got on the horse-drawn trolley," Sybil said. "There were a lot of things nearing completion, a lot of things for Walt to check out and he was quite observant about everything."
The photos help tell the story and prompt memories from the day. Sybil still has a scrapbook with photos and the newspaper clippings documenting it all.
There was a ride with Disney on the streetcar; a trip on the pack mules and aboard the park’s Congo Queen for exotic voyage on the waters of The Jungle Cruise.
According to the 1955 newspaper article, Disney took the children on The Jungle Cruise twice, giving each child a chance at the helm: (following text quoted from 1955 article:)
"An explorer’s boat was waiting for them at the water’s edge to convey them along a twisting river through a jungle, dense, sinister and alive with the shriek and chatter of tropical birds and beasts ... jungle noises taped in South America and elsewhere.
"Young Billy solemnly took the wheel of the riverboat, which was just a little smaller than that of the movie ‘African Queen’ and lacked only a bleary-eyed Humphrey Bogart to take command.
"With Sybil at his side and Disney grinning in the background, Billy steered into the brown jungle stream.
" ‘If you ever need a driver for this boat, I’d like to put my name down for the job right now,’ the wide-eyed youngster told Disney.
"It wasn’t long however before the quick-witted Billy caught on to the reason for Disney’s playful smile. The steering wheel was a dummy ... the boat guided along on a rail unseen under the water. ...
"‘It’s my turn to steer now,’ Sybil announced, and Disney patiently escorted them on another trip through his manmade jungle.” (end text from 1955 article)
"We spent a lot of time in Adventureland," Sybil recalled. "I remember getting a chance to pilot the Jungle Cruise boat and approaching the waterfall. I remember Walt Disney’s teasing, telling me to make sure I dodged it. But I knew we’d stay safe and dry. You could see the tracks."
Other photos show Disney and the kids peering from one of the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad freight cars, waving from the back of a caboose and from the captain’s quarters aboard The Mark Twain.
There’s the image of the children posing on the C.K. Holliday steam engine and the Casey Jr. Circus Train and its wild animal car long before the locomotives were put into service.
"I remember the Mark Twain Riverboat. It was so huge and stately. It didn’t go anywhere at that point," Sybil said. "It hadn’t been launched yet. It was simply an opportunity to get a good photo for the newspaper.
"I don’t think we rode the train either, but later on in my life, that would always be one of the first things we’d do," she added.
During their visit, they also stepped through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and walked into Fantasyland. While there’s not much in the way of photos from this area reflected in the newspaper’s three-day series, there are fond memories.
"We couldn’t ride on the Tea Cups because it wasn’t ready," Sybil said, "but I remember distinctly walking around on the floor in Peter Pan’s Flight. I believe we also took a trip on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride."
The group explored Tomorrowland, which opened with its sight’s set on the future of 1986. There’s a photo of Bill driving a gasoline-powered Autopia car with Sybil as his passenger. The 1955 story includes this quote from him: "I sure wish I could drive to school in one of these." Sybil said she was too short to drive back then, still mildly disappointed.
Bill fondly recalls Autopia and remembers that drivers had far more control of their cars in those early days of Disneyland. There was no rail to help guide the car’s path.
"Driving those little cars was my favorite ride," Bill said, "I thought Autopia was a lot of fun and it was the first thing I wanted to do on return visits. When I had kids, they thought it was silly. They’d say, ‘Let’s go for the thrill rides.’"
Despite the interest in Disneyland among their peers, they don’t remember being elevated to celebrity status once the three-day series was published. Much of the curiosity came later on in their lives.
"At 9 years old, your friends aren’t reading the daily newspaper,” Sybil said. “But I was bringing my little scrapbook to every show-and-tell class up until I was probably a freshman in high school.
"The most awed group really was the other cousins -- but we were the chosen children." she continued. "I remember sometime later that year, I got a call from Corey Smith, my cousin in Lake Bluff, Ill. He had seen a picture of me and Bill on the cover of ‘The Weekly Reader.’"
The pair recently reunited at Disneyland, special guests of the Anaheim theme park as the company unveiled new parades, a fireworks show, attractions and other offerings in an 18-month celebration of Disneyland’s 50th year.
Bill and Sybil spoke individually to media from around the world, reporters working for television, radio, print and online. I’m proud to say I was one of the first to learn about their story months earlier, from Bill’s sister, a subscriber to the newspaper where I used to work.
Bill and Sybil even did their best with Disneyland’s help to recreated a pose from one of the photos taken nearly 50 years’ earlier.
Both offered praise to Walt Disney, still beloved by those who remember him for his movies, his weekly TV appearances as host of “The Wonderful World of Disney” and as the man who gave the young and the young-in-heart the gift of Disneyland. This icon of family entertainment died Dec. 11, 1966.
Despite the occasional visits to Disneyland prior to Disney’s passing, they never again encountered him.
"My memories of Walt? He was really handsome and sweet," Sybil said. "He had the most wonderful voice. I’m not sure we even had a television at this time and I had no concept of what Disneyland was all about."
Bill said: "I thought he was a great gentleman, very, very kind and quite humble. I probably didn’t fully recognize what a magnificent achievement and what a great individual he was at the time being relatively young.
"I think I became more familiar and interested in Walt Disney after that day," he continued. "One of the things that impressed me was his philosophical approach to provide entertainment for all ages -- very clean and wholesome entertainment."
Neither attended Disneyland’s televised preview opening on July 17, 1955. It took them weeks before making it back to the theme park.
“We had access to passes because of my uncle, but we decided to wait a bit until things calmed down before going back for another visit,” Bill said. “We weren’t avid park goers, especially growing up.”
Sybil concurred. “We went on occasion, not like the kids do today,” she said. “It’s still one of the most proud participatory things I’ve ever done in my life, second only to being a course marshal at the cycling events during the 1984 Summer Olympics."
And, while Bill asked Disney about becoming a Jungle Cruise skipper long before he’d be eligible to work at the park, he never applied for a job at the theme park.
"I had a desire to work in different fields every summer during school break. I did become acquainted with people who worked at the park and made a career out of it. Of those I’ve come to know, I’ve been I very impressed with their dedication to the company and to Disneyland or Walt Disney World. Disney seems to have created a culture that has been adopted by their employees in their interactions with the public."